Chief Joseph

(In mut too yah lat lat )


Chief Joseph
Chief Joseph was born In-mut-too-yah-lat-lat, a Nez Perce name meaning "Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain," but he was known as Young Joseph after his father’s Christian name. During Joseph’s youth, his tribe faced many difficulties with the U.S. government, primarily concerning the amount of land given to natives and settlers. In 1855, several chiefs, including Joseph’s father, signed a treaty granting the Nez Perce 7.7 million acres of land in the Northwest, but only eight years later a new treaty was written up, one that designated only 780,000 acres for Indian use. The elder Joseph, along with many others, refused to sign. This refusal led to a rift between those who had agreed to the treaty and those who had not, with one division of the Nez Perce moving into reservation boundaries and the other remaining in the tribe’s traditional land in the Wallowa Valley.

Joseph succeeded his father as chief in 1871. The non-treaty Nez Perce were treated unjustly by settlers and prospectors alike, but their new leader would not allow any violence from his people, instead pursuing peaceful negotiations with the U.S. government. He was at first allowed to remain in the Wallowa Valley, but in 1877 the policy was reversed and General Oliver Howard threatened to attack unless Joseph relocated to the Idaho Reservation with the rest of the Nez Perce. Defeated, the chief agreed to these terms. The tribe was given thirty days to move their belongings inside the reservation; after that time, any remaining Indians would be considered hostile. Joseph held several councils before they began their journey, always encouraging peace in face of bloodshed. Just as he was leaving however, he learned of an attack on four white men, an act sure to initiate war.

Pursued by 2,000 soldiers, Joseph led 800 Nez Perce northward toward their allies, the Crows, hoping for assistance. The Crows, however, betrayed them in favor of the American Army, and the Nez Perce instead turned toward the Canadian border in hopes of freedom. The tribe travelled 1,600 miles, constantly keeping back their enemies, before they were finally forced to surrender after a devastating five-day battle. By this time, over 200 of his followers had died, and those remaining were shipped to Kansas to be held for eight months in a prisoner-of-war camp. After their release, they were taken to a reservation in present-day Oklahoma, where those who did not fall subject to deadly diseases remained for six years. Finally, after Joseph’s pleas reached President Hayes, the Nez Perce were returned to the Pacific Northwest. Chief Joseph continued to lead the Wallowa Valley tribe until his death in 1904.

Key events during the life of Chief Joseph:

Nez Perce chiefs signed a treaty allowing them 7.7 million acres of land in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.
U.S. Gov’t proposed a new treaty that granted the Nez Perce 780,000 acres, as well as financial aid, schools, and hospitals.
Succeeded his father as chief.
Negotiated with the U.S. Gov’t to ensure his people would remain on traditional land in the Wallowa Valley.
Forced to relocate to the Idaho Reservation but tried instead to escape to Canada.
  Surrendered to the U.S. Army.
  Sent to Kansas to be held in a prisoner-of-war camp.
Taken to a reservation in Oklahoma.
  Went to Washington, D.C. to plead the case of his people.
Nez Perce were allowed to return to the Northwest.

Image Links

Joseph, the Nez Perce Warrior
 in Indian History for Young Folks

Chief Joseph in full costume
 in Famous Indian Chiefs I Have Known

A portrait of Chief Joseph on birch bark
 in Famous Indian Chiefs I Have Known

General Howard and his good friend, Chief Joseph
 in Famous Indian Chiefs I Have Known

Chief Joseph
 in Boy's Book of Indian Warriors

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